Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Resurrection Doubt, Resurrection Hope." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Luke 24:36-48

"Supper at Emmaus." Artist: He Qi


"Resurrection Doubt, Resurrection Hope"

Luke 24:36-48



“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…”

            New Testament scholar David Lose says, “If you don’t have serious doubts about the Easter story, you’re not paying attention.”[1]
            Think about it. The different gospel accounts have some interesting variations, but they’re consistent about one thing: nobody believes the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear it. And that includes Jesus’ own inner circles of disciples, who were closest to him and spent the most time with him.
            Easter Sunday was only two weeks ago, but it feels like longer to me. But the verses we just heard are a continuation of Luke’s account of the first Easter day.
            In the first story, the women went to the tomb, they found the tomb was empty. Heavenly messengers opened the scriptures to them, explaining that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But when the women returned to the Eleven disciples and the others, they dismissed what the women said, calling it “an idle tale.”
            Actually, the word Luke used-- leros-- is the root of our word “delirious.” So, the disciples may have been saying the women were extremely excited and joyful, but also incoherent…irrational…or mentally confused. Delirious.
           
            Well, is it so surprising that the disciples had their doubts? Jesus had died on the cross and been buried. The testimony they heard from the women that Jesus who died has been raised upsets the natural order of things and everything they’ve always believed about how things work in the world.
           
            The story continues. Peter gets up and runs to the tomb to see for himself and he’s amazed.
           
            In the second story, on the same day, Cleopas and another disciple were walking toward Emmaus and talking about what had been happening. Jesus came and started walking with them, but they didn’t recognize him, even as Jesus interprets the scriptures for them. When they invite Jesus to dinner and he took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and Jesus vanished from their sight.
            That same hour, the two got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and other disciples, who were talking about how Jesus was risen and had appeared to Simon Peter. Then Clopas and his companion told about their encounter on the road and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
            The story continues in the verses we heard this morning. While they were all talking, all of a sudden Jesus was standing among them, saying, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.
            Imagine having to explain to your closest friends, over and over again, that you’re not a ghost or a figment of their imagination, that you are real and alive, approachable, and trustworthy.  What would you say or do to calm their fears?
            Jesus doesn’t scold them or reprove them or shame them. He sees that they’re still struggling, even though he’d predicted all these things three times, and they’ve already heard the testimony of the women, and Cleopas and his companion, and Peter.
            Jesus meets them where they are.  He asks them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. See that it is I myself. Touch me and see--for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  Jesus showed them his hands and feet, which bear unmistakable signs of his crucifixion and vulnerability.
            But that isn’t enough. “In their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering…”
            So, Jesus says, “Do you have anything to eat? They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
            Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Jesus’ whole life, death, and rising were about what God is doing in the world--reconciling the world to God’s self. It has always been about God and God’s purposes and agenda for creation-- repentance that leads to forgiveness and the wholeness of creation.[2]

            Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
            He opened their minds to begin to see that death is not the final word. He sets them free from those bonds and commissions them: “You are witnesses of these things.”
            I love how Luke’s account of the resurrection story shows us that joy and disbelief, wonder and understanding, fear and courage are all part of our experience. Apparently, we don’t have to have it all together to be a witness to “all of these things.” Our Christian faith takes root in the tension.  Jesus meets us--all of us-- where we are in order to embrace our wonder, disbelief, and joy and gather us into the amazing, surprising grace and newness of God.

            Today’s gospel lesson brings the work and ministry and teaching of Jesus full circle. At the very beginning of his gospel, Luke tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem all of creation.
            The power of the resurrection is the power to plant the seeds of transformation and new life. The hope of the resurrection is grounded in the experience of those first disciples, whose closed minds were opened.
            Just when we think the story is over, God has something new to say.  It has always been about God, and it still is. 

            As witnesses, we are called to declare in our words and deeds the presence and power of God in the midst of tragedy, despair, and death. They are not ultimate, because God’s goodness is stronger than evil and death.
            The good news is that we do not witness alone, as we are part of a community of fellow believers. We do not witness alone, as the Spirit is indeed coming. In a broken and fearful world, the same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.[3]
           
            Thanks be to God!
           



[2] Barbara J. Essex, in “Homiletical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent Through Pentecost. Kindle Edition, Loc 15076/
[3] Brief Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1990.